Abrupt Ice Age Shifts in Southern Westerlies and Antarctic Climate Forced from the North

Buizert, Christo; Sigl, Michael; Severi, Mirko; Markle, Bradley R.; Wettstein, Justin J.; McConnell, Joseph R.; Pedro, Joel B.; Sodemann, Harald; Goto-Azuma, Kumiko; Kawamura, Kenji; Fujita, Shuji; Motoyama, Hideaki; Hirabayashi, Motohiro; Uemura, Ryu; Stenni, Barbara; Parrenin, Frédéric; He, Feng; Fudge, T. J.; Steig, Eric J. (2018). Abrupt Ice Age Shifts in Southern Westerlies and Antarctic Climate Forced from the North. Nature, 563(7733), pp. 681-685. Springer Nature 10.1038/s41586-018-0727-5

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The Southern Hemisphere (SH) mid-latitude westerly winds play a central role in the global climate system via Southern Ocean upwelling, carbon exchange with the deep ocean, Agulhas Leakage, and Antarctic ice sheet stability. Meridional shifts in the SH westerlies have been hypothesized in response to abrupt North Atlantic Dansgaard-Oeschger (DO) climatic events of the last ice age, in parallel with the well-documented shifts of the intertropical convergence zone. Shifting moisture pathways to West Antarctica are consistent with this view, but may represent a Pacific teleconnection pattern. The full SH atmospheric-circulation response to the DO cycle, as well as its impact on Antarctic temperature, have so far remained unclear. Here we use five volcanically-synchronized ice cores to show that the Antarctic temperature response to the DO cycle can be understood as the superposition of two modes: a spatially homogeneous oceanic “bipolar seesaw” mode that lags Northern Hemisphere (NH) climate by about 200 years, and a spatially heterogeneous atmospheric mode that is synchronous with NH abrupt events. Temperature anomalies of the atmospheric mode are similar to those associated with present-day Southern Annular Mode (SAM) variability, rather than the Pacific South America (PSA) pattern. Moreover, deuterium excess records suggest a zonally coherent migration of the SH westerlies over all ocean basins in phase with NH climate. Our work provides a simple conceptual framework for understanding the circum-Antarctic temperature response to abrupt NH climate change. We provide observational evidence for abrupt shifts in the SH westerlies, with ramifications for global ocean circulation and atmospheric CO₂. These coupled changes highlight the necessity of a global, rather than a purely North Atlantic, perspective on the DO cycle.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Climate and Environmental Physics
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)

UniBE Contributor:

Sigl, Michael


500 Science > 530 Physics
500 Science > 540 Chemistry
500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology




Springer Nature




Michael Sigl

Date Deposited:

21 Apr 2020 08:06

Last Modified:

06 Dec 2020 13:49

Publisher DOI:






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